The NAND flash consumption of mobile devices will be three times larger in 2025 than 2021, with the coming of the 5G era

Sponsored by Western Digital, Counterpoint has published a white paper that investigates storage demands for different 5G mobile applications. The white paper aims to increase awareness among mobile device manufacturers about the different needs for storage in 5G-driven applications, and clarify the characteristics and differences of various storage types.

5G adds complexity as each mobile device to both generate, as well as consume, several times more data than current devices. Higher 5G throughputs will drive richer content streaming. More advanced AI applications will add further complexity to the choice of storage. Considering storage early in the design phase will help to improve the performance of 5G mobile devices and will potentially be a point of differentiation among competing products.

The key trends for storage in 5G-capable mobile devices:

  • Better performance in sequential reading/writing speed and bandwidth
  • Larger capacity to 256GB, 512GB, and above
  • Lower costs including 3D NAND, TLC, QLC
  • Better controller qualities in architecture, lifetime, wear leveling, over-provisioning
  • Embedded Storage Interfaces including UFS 2.1, UFS 3.x, UFS4.x, and PCIe
  • Better reliability to improve the lifetime of the device

The key mobile devices to be driven by 5G include smartphones, connected PCs, tablets, and standalone eXtended Reality (XR) head-mounted-displays (HMD). All these devices will have different requirements for storage. Many of these devices will also drive new use cases, potentially generating more service revenue as outlined in the diagram:  

Opportunity for storage players

eMMC 5.1 can still meet the demand for some devices migrating initially from 4G to 5G. However, The UFS interface aligns best with most 5G devices because of its high Gbps-level throughputs. Connected PCs will need both UFS storage and PCIe SSDs, while others will prefer UFS as the main storage interface.

From the perspective of the package, MCP solutions are dominant only in the low to mid-range smartphones. While system designers for high-performance mobile devices prefer to use package-on-package (PoP) solution which includes low power DRAM plus discrete UFS or eMMC. PoP solutions can provide better performance than MCP solutions because the application processor (AP) can directly communicate with low power DRAM at high frequencies to reduce the interference of AP and RAM communication signals. 

From the perspective of performance, eMMC has become the mainstream of mobile application data storage for several years. However, the speed of eMMC is reaching a limit because of its parallel 8-bit transmission. As a result, UFS is poised to become the mainstream interface in the 5G era because its serial interface and full-duplex data transfer protocol can offer two to four times the peak bandwidth of eMMC’s parallel 8-bit interface. UFS 2.x and UFS 3.x can reach a maximum speed of 11.6Gbps (1450 MB/s) and 23.2Gbps (2,900 MB/s), respectively. Both are much higher than eMMC 5.1’s 3.2Gbps (400 MB/s). Future UFS 4.x can be even faster.

The UFS interface aligns well with the higher Gbps level throughputs promised in 5G, compared to eMMC which could be a bottleneck for some 5G-driven mobile devices such as connected PCs, XR devices, smartphones, and tablets. Further, the power consumption of UFS in standby mode is like that of eMMC. In the active mode, UFS power consumption is higher than eMMC but UFS can rapidly transmit more data, allowing a return to an idle state faster. So, UFS is significantly lower compared to eMMC in terms of overall power consumption and can enable battery savings for battery-powered IoT applications. Further, UFS also delivers greater overall system performance and user experiences, which makes it the choice of memory storage interface for 5G mobile devices.

Compared to 5G’s 1-10 Gbps, the theoretical transmission rate of 4G LTE can exceed 1Gbps, but the actual speeds in most cases are still below 500Mbps. 5G-powered XR, online game, and 8K video will require speeds of 6 Gbps, so UFS is essential in these applications.

Conclusion & Recommendations

  • UFS is the most suitable interface for 5G-driven mobile devices. Its fast speed and responsiveness can meet the requirements of instant-on, fast-booting, multitasking, and multiprocessing in the 5G era. Also, it consumes less power so it can extend battery life.
  • Mobile game streaming will grow strongly with 5G’s large bandwidth and low latency. Content providers need to know the capability, requirements, and limitations of 5G and design high-quality mobile games with cloud streaming on any device.
  • The price of NAND flash is declining. However, 5G-centric devices will require high-performance storage solutions. Mobile devices manufacturers must understand the characteristics of different types of flash to choose the appropriate memory to meet the performance requirements of their applications.
  • To be successful in the 5G era, flash makers must understand the demand and the impact of these 5G devices on storage and realize the market potential for various applications to provide the right solutions


Download the Whitepaper: The NAND flash consumption of mobile devices will see three times larger in 2025 than 2021, with the coming of the 5G era. (for free)

Brady Wang has more than 20 years working experience in high-technology companies from semiconductor manufacturing to market intelligence, and strategy advisory. Brady’s major coverage in Counterpoint is semiconductors. Prior to joining Counterpoint, Brady Wang worked for Gartner for 11 years. He started his career at TSMC as an engineer for 6 years.

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